Since I did my Best of 2017 wrap-up, I skipped my December QuickLit post! Now my site feels a little bit naked. Votes as to whether I should write one really delayed post or just let it go?
Following are the short, sweet reviews of the 21 books I read in January. Started off this year with a bang! Four were 5-star reads for me, but plenty of them were EXCELLENT as well. Skim til you see something you like!
|ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel
Although I found some parts of this (admittedly a bit dated) book revolutionary, I feel like it was mostly repetitive. Let me splain…. No, there is too much, let me sum up: If we reframe our thinking as we are responsible TO our children instead of FOR our children, it will be easier to have a calm, measured response to the daily trials of parenting. Instead of feeling like each mis-step is a reflection of what our parenting is or what our children will become (causing anxiety about the heavy load), we need to “put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others” and not give our children the too-heavy responsibility of calming down their parents. Runkel basically asserts that every time we lose our cool, we are essentially “screaming” at our kids “CALM ME DOWN”, which, of course, doesn’t teach them anything except for the idea that they are responsible for our emotions. I do think this’ll stick with me as I approach this new year of parenting, but time will tell if it has any lasting effects to change my own thinking in this way.
|The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
This was a GREAT read/listen. I felt it was the most succinct and approachable guide to the Enneagram that I’ve read By Far. I guess that could be because each time I’ve learned and retained a bit more about it, but I really felt like Cron EMBODIED what it means to be each type and really talked about what it looks like in day to day life so much better than many others have done. Highly recommended for personality geeks like me!
|The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Sweeping and beautiful, a lifetime is contained in these pages. We get to see Cyril’s life unfold, every seven years, from birth onward. And it is brutal and heartbreaking and amazing and awful and lovely. It is a full life. I loved this book. A slow start, but then I could NOT stop reading. Pick this one up for a slow burn and a lifetime of reading contained in a solid 500+ page read.
|Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Holy sex-and-violence, Batman. This is an intense book from cover to cover. I was glad to finally tie in the story of the Blackbeak clan (because those chapters were seriously starting to annoy me in the previous book or two). But we’ve got so many additional new characters now as well, and I honestly thought, until I was about 50 pages from the end, that this was going to be the finale of this series. Obviously not. Book #6 will have to wait, because I’ve got lots of reading to do! (But I will read it eventually…)
|Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Mildly useful. I feel like this is the “level up” version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but then it’s also geared toward those who got stuck somehow? I guess it’s just not super clear to me who this book is supposed to be for. I feel it would have been better to add an addendum or 10 to the original book and call it the revised and expanded version.
|What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Really well done. I didn’t expect to become nearly so emotional while listening to this book as I did, but the fact remains that hearing Hillary twerk the take in her own words (and with her own voice), bright me to tears more than once. This book talks about everything from debate prep to scandals, to stupid email inquiries, to Comey, to election night, and the day she decided to run. It’s really well written, comprehensive in its scope and substance and I really enjoyed it, even the crying parts.
|Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
It is decided: I will always always always make time for Katherine Applegate books. This one is about a little boy who is getting moved around and maybe looking at homelessness and his childhood imaginary friend that shows up again, just when he needs him. It’s got some tougher topics, but after I finished, my oldest (7 years) read it through twice in a row and loved it too. She is a magician with animals and friendships and words and tough situations and depicting love. I love her writing, I love how speedily it flows. I love her characters and short chapters and sweet resolutions and teary-eyed smiles. ❤❤❤
|The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book was a powerful statement to the way women can wield power and change their lives. Evelyn makes no apologies for being a self-made woman who relied, often, on her sex appeal to get what she wanted and become famous. But the world never got to see who she really was and her authorized biography is changing all of that. It’s so easy to forget that Evelyn Hugo doesn’t really exist, because TJR so masterfully weaves her into the culture of old Hollywood. This was a great pick for my weekend (sick) readathon, as it felt like being fully immersed in the life of this starlet.
|The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Read this one in a day during the #TBCreadathon2018 and while I did find it compelling enough, and did tear through it pretty fast, it also felt kind of “done before”. Like it didn’t have anything new to bring to the table. Amber sets out to steal the husband and life of Mrs. Daphne Parrish. She builds a whole life in order to create a false friendship between them, always with her eyes on Mr. Jackson Parrish. But, of course, this perfect life isn’t everything it appears… nothing is.
This one had elements of Behind Closed Doors, Behind Her Eyes, and other women-centric thrillers of the past few years. It’s not unreadable, so pick it up if you need something to get you back on the reading train.
|Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Picked this as my “book set in your home state” for this year’s reading challenge. I liked plenty about it, but felt like it definitely wasn’t the “book for me”, if you know what I mean. Of course, it’s a classic for a reason, and this coming-of-age story about Antonio in the llano of New Mexico is richly detailed and full of superstition and magic and Mexican culture. And for that, I loved it. But it was also a rough read about a little boy confronted with the realities of death and I just wanted to stop reading and hug him instead.
|Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Rose
This was great fun. Adventure and intrigue and two young boys looking to strike it rich in the Klondike gold rush of the late 19th century. Caroline Starr Rose does meticulous research to really bring her stories to life, and, even though they are middle grade novels, they are thoughtful and intelligent, not dumbed down at all. If you’re interested, I also did an interview with Caroline about her first two novels in verse: May B, and Blue Birds, which you can find here.
|Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opium Epidemic by Sam Quinones
This was a super interesting look at the way the heroin and opiate craze hit at the same time, fed off each other, and took over small-town America. It’s scary how many factors had to come together to make this a silent epidemic, taking American cities by storm. It made me so grateful for the fact that someone very close to me that I love very much made it through an addiction to opiates to the other side. It makes me grateful that my husband started practicing medicine after the ultra-addictive nature of opiates came to light instead of during their golden era, where doctors turned into pill machines… like the one he took over for. It’s a difficult road and I’m glad it’s finally being discussed and brought to light.
|Fierce Faith: A Woman’s Guide to Fighting Fear, Wrestling Worry, and Overcoming Anxiety by Alli Worthington
I don’t think that I’m Alli’s target audience for this. Or, at least, I didn’t. I got the galley copy because I’ve enjoyed her books in the past and was invited to be part of the launch team, but once I read the description I wasn’t sure it was in my wheelhouse. Anxiety? Fear? I’m a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky gal!
However, I can say that I definitely caught myself nodding along to this book over and over again, highlighting passages, and just generally devouring it like it was water of life. I did not expect this. Alli’s writing has really matured over the past two years from her first book to this one, and I honestly believe this is a book for every Christian woman. Whether we admit it or not, we all fear something, and we all have a hard time believing, sometimes, the promises of God, and become anxious over our lack of control over our lives. You may think, like me, “fear doesn’t rule my life, I don’t need a book like this” but this book is for all the ladies. 🙂
*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
|Solo by Kwame Alexander
The music plus the verse novel format of this one make the audiobook an unforgettable must. The son of a rock and roll star, Blade is a teenager trying to get out from the sex and drugs shadow of his father, while still trying to chase the music. Alexander’s verse is direct and deep, as we expect from the writer of Crossover. I do feel like this one will have broader appeal across the board, even though the themes are more mature: I’d call this young adult rather than middle grade lit.
|The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
13-year-old Leni and her POW father and her hippie mama move to Alaska in 1973 to escape “the man”, and hopefully help her dad heal. But Alaska is dark and brutal and beautiful. This book brings it to life in a way that I’ve never seen. Fair warning: I spent at least the last 15% intermittently battling tears. This is not The Nightingale, but it is AMAZING. Highly recommended. I’d put this novel between the YA and coming of age genre. It has some tough domestic violence situations, for those that are triggered by such scenes.
*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
|Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
I definitely enjoyed this one, but think I would have enjoyed it more if the format wasn’t so disjointed. It takes a while to figure out the characters and how they relate to one another. It also is a bit weird/ embarrassing to walk around reading a book that intentionally looks like a giant vagina on the cover. So, just FYI: Kindle or audio may be a better option for this one! Those items aside, this is a thought-provoking dystopian (but feels SO close to the current debates about abortion and women’s rights) novel that will leave you pondering it and its implications well past the final page.
|Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
So good. I’m on a no-buy year for 2018, but I know I’ll be asking for a hard copy of this book that I can highlight and underline and re-read each year. It’s so great, succinct, and vital. I took so many notes as I listened to the audio version, and I feel like it just has to get better and better each time you listen/read. Greg McKeown’s Scottish narration doesn’t hurt things a BIT, either. 🙂
|When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patriss Khan-Cullors
This is an important and powerful memoir from one of the BLM movement founders, Patrisse Kahn-Cullors. She starts in her early childhood, discusses her firsthand accounts of systemic racism and oppression of the Black (men, especially, but really all) people in her life. I understand why it was formatted the way it was, but honestly, I wanted more from the end. I loved the retelling of her childhood and young adulthood, but I wanted more from and about the movement itself, this movement that we see changing a generation, galvanizing a sea change like the civil rights movements of the 60’s. I feel like otherwise I would have made this a full 5-star read. It just kind of felt like after all that buildup, she ran out of steam at the end.
|Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson
This book took me 8 years (oops, DAYS) to read, partly because I feel like this male author was trying too hard to portray female emotions. Our two main characters are Suzanne (Marcel) and Lucie (Claude). I know this one will be compared to the recent smash hit of the Heart’s Invisible Furies, but it doesn’t hold a candle. Where that was funny and poignant and sweet and heartbreaking, this feels like a WWII spy novel that just happens to have two lesbians at its center. Of course it may just be unfortunate that I read the other masterpiece so recently, because I just kept comparing them in my head, and they aren’t comparable. So, for that I give it 3 stars. The plot moved… decently. The characters were…. interesting.
*I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review — otherwise, I might not have finished it*
|The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Oh, what a sweetly endearing novel about Arthur, Maddie, and Lucille, all of whom are a bit broken and sad, but each of which finds something in the others. It’s a quick, sentimental read, but not schmaltzy or overdone. Each character seems genuine and the plot moves along nicely. Thoroughly enjoyable for a binge read or a “curl up on the couch and enjoy it while you’re sick or sleepy” read. Both are lovely options. I devoured this one on my brand new reading chair…. my new favorite place in the whole wide world.
|The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Lovely Russian fantasy read for the wintertime. Cold and frost abound. Feels kind of Snow-Child-esque in its sweeping winter scenes, so I’d recommend it as a read-alike. I have already reserved book #2 in the series, so I can keep up with the characters, whose names I will not even attempt to spell as I listened to the audiobook and they are all Russian names, so I have NO idea what they look like. 🙂
Full disclosure: I also abandoned Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks this month. I just couldn’t get myself to care about it at all. And don’t feel bad about that.